Virtual instruction offered to area students
By Kevin Boneske
BROWN COUNTY – Tuesday, Sept. 1, marked the start of classes for local school districts amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
After having switched to online instruction in March to close out the 2019-20 school year, districts had discretion from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction as to how to offer classes this fall while dealing with a continuing public health concern.
For students uncomfortable about returning to in-person instruction, Greater Green Bay districts continue to offer a virtual option.
The Green Bay Area Public School District began the school year all virtually.
Districts allowing students to return to the classroom with precautions in place to prevent the virus from spreading reported one-fifth or less of the overall student population elected to stay away from school facilities and learn virtually.
Going into the start of the new school year, Ashwaubenon Superintendent Kurt Weyers said about 18 percent of district students chose the virtual option, totaling 555 students in grades 4K-12.
“We wanted to provide a plan that gave everyone options, and we think that this plan has provided options for parents, either in person or virtual at 4K-5, and either blended or virtual in grades 6-12,” he said.
Weyers said the number of students per grade electing all-virtual instruction is consistent to the districtwide average of around 40 in both the upper and lower grades.
He said an online curriculum is being used with a teacher in each grade assigned to virtual 4K-5 students and multiple teachers involved with virtual 6-12 students.
After the first week of instruction, Weyers said the district will fully implement its plan for students attending classes in person.
The plan calls from all 4K-5 students returning for in-person instruction to be present five days a week, with safety precautions and physical distancing in place.
Students in grades 6-12 have been divided into two groups, green and yellow, to alternate every other school day between in-school and at-home instruction.
Weyers said space limitations don’t allow having all 6-12 students in attendance at one time because of social distancing.
Because teacher preparation time will be affected by having students go directly to their classrooms upon arriving at school in the morning to reduce contact between students in different classes, he said the plan includes a later start Wednesdays when classes will start an hour and a half later to accommodate additional planning, professional development and collaboration for teachers.
Though it will be possible to switch instructional options during the school year, Weyers said elementary students are being asked to commit to an option for at least a quarter with students in grades 6-12 asked to commit to an option for a semester.
As the school year progresses, he said virtual learning could go into effect districtwide due to the number of positive COVID-19 cases in the community or individual schools, or the guidelines for safety and social distancing could be adjusted with a change in the plan to have all students in class five days a week.
At Howard-Suamico, Director of Communications Brian Nicol said 18 percent, or 1,106 students districtwide in PreK-12, will be learning online, which includes two plans.
Nicol said the HSSD Family Choice Online Learning Program is for students in grades K-6.
“This is the fully online at home learning program,” he said. “HSSD staff have been assigned to those classes, rather than teaching in-person.”
For grade 7-12 students learning online, Nicol said they are being taught alongside their in-person class by the same teachers.
“They connect with their classrooms in real time each day and are taught by the same teachers as the in-person students,” he said.
For all students attending in person, with grades 5-12 in HSSD’s blended model, Nicol said on the days when they are at home, they are participating in activities assigned by teachers, in addition to scheduled check-ins.
“At the 7-12 grade levels, students will also attend class online at the same time as their in-person peers each day,” he said. “The virtual learning aspect of this plan varies a little, based on the school, with (grades) 5-6 at Lineville, 7-8 at Bay View and 9-12 at Bay Port.”
Educators have also been prepared to the online instruction.
“We added professional learning days and online resources for teachers in August,” said Assistant Superintendent of Academics and Innovation Dr. Becky Walker. “We provided training in formats that mirrored what our students will be experiencing this fall. We learned a lot from that experience.
In the Unified School District of De Pere, Communications Manager Pam Pirman said 620 students, slightly more than 14 percent of the total enrollment, will be in the district’s full-time virtual learning program known as the De Pere Virtual Academy.
Pirman said 3,686 students will attend classes physically, either full-time (grades 4K-6), or blended with in-person and virtual instruction (grades 7-12).
West De Pere
The West De Pere School District began the school year offering in-person instruction districtwide five days a week or virtual instruction, also known as “all in or all out.”
Stacy Schaetz, administrative assistant to the superintendent, said about 20 percent of district students chose the virtual option.